Let me tell you there is a TON of information on sleep out there. You will find suggestions ranging from taking 200mcg (micrograms) of huperzine-A 30 minutes before bed to investing hundreds of dollars in a “personal sleep manger” machine.
But is that stuff REALLY helpful to you?
I’m sure if you have insomnia, you will go to great lengths to try to get the best sleep possible, but this article is not for insomniacs.
It’s for you; the other guy & gal who simply wants to sleep a little bit better. I’ve written about sleep before, but it was a little more technical; about hormones, what sleep is, etc.
Today I want to keep it simple.
So instead of…
- Listing every single sleep tactic…
- Naming every sleep supplement…
- Covering every sleep theory…
- Or identifying every hormonal process involved in sleep…
Let’s get down to brass tacks.
Three ways you can actually get better sleep, starting today…or tonight.
Ready to get started?
Let’s do it!
1.) Realize Sleep is Freakin’ Important
I know what you are saying…
“I know sleep is important, I’ll skip to #2!”
But do you really know how important sleep is? I don’t think most people do. People chasing success, money, [fill in the blank here] will cut sleep out of the equation in an effort to do more.
If you’re a “hard charger” who thinks working to the bone is the key to success, you may want to know that you are setting yourself up for failure. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but it will catch up with you.
I mean did you know sleeping less than 7 hours daily impairs alertness and is associated with increased obesity, morbidity, and mortality?
Less than 7 hours!? Do you sleep more than 7 hours every night??
Look, I don’t want to get into all of the science, but you can read ALL of the science in the sources of this article. Trust me, I read it all, and it really boils down to two things (aside from understanding the importance of sleep).
I could ramble on for thousands of words about leptin, ghrelin, cortisol, growth hormone, etc…but that may bore you. Instead, let me give you the bottom line.
Bottom line: Not getting enough sleep will decrease your better humanness, thus it is extremely freakin’ important.
Losing precious sleep will decrease reaction times to the levels of a drunkard, compromise your immune system, jack up your hormones – making you gain weight, and it will cut the hormones which help you gain muscle.
Proper sleep is one of the biggest factors to becoming a better human.
Alright, got it? Sleep is important. Check.
Now what can we do about it?
2.) Fix your Light Problems
If there were a raccoon in your room would you be able to see it, or only hear it?
Weird question. But seriously? How well can you see in your room at night? Think about that one for a second. Got your answer? Ok, next…
Do you ever watch TV right before going to sleep? How about computers? Do you use your computer, phone or tablet while in bed before you go to sleep?
Lastly, how much time do you spend outside? Do you get at least 30 minutes in the sun everyday?
Ok, all of those questions will help you run a diagnostic on your current sleep state. If you can’t tell from the questions I asked, the interconnectedness of light exposure and your body’s sleep mechanisms is substantial.
Why does light matter?
- Nighttime light exposure suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone which controls sleep and wake cycles.
- If melatonin is suppressed you don’t sleep well on top of scarier things like increase in the risk of cancer, impaired immune system function, and all things that are bad.
So nighttime light exposure is bad, but daytime light exposure is a necessity. Exposing yourself to intense outdoor light for at least 30 minutes a day helps keep a strong circadian rhythm.
Why outdoor light? Outdoor lux units will be around 100,000 at noon. Indoors, the typical average is somewhere between 100 to 2,000 lux units.
Do you care what a lux is? Me either. Just know outdoor light is A LOT more powerful than indoor light.
Next, we need to talk about those pesky little screens that seem to be permanently attached to all of us (computers, phones, tablets, etc.)…
All (or most) of our devices emit short-wavelength or “blue” light which is the MOST suppressive of melatonin.
Well! We’re all screwed, right?
Do you ever stay inside most of the day and use a device which emits a lot of “blue” light during the evening hours?? Don’t answer that!
Don’t use screens? Well, typical room light alone can have a similar suppressing effect on melatonin secretion as the light from backlit screens.
Sooo, now that I’ve given you a ton of problems, let’s get down to solutions.
The Sleep and Light Checklist:
- Black out your room. Pitch black.
- Remove all electronic devices which emit light (you know the TV which has an “off” light…makes no sense).
- Install f.lux on as many of your devices as you can.
- Go outside during a lunch break and get some light (30 minutes)!
- Limit your light exposure at night, or at least the intensity of light. Yea, you need lights in your house, but limit what you can with dimmers or simply turning lights off when you don’t need them.
Not too bad, right?
A few quick adjustments and you can significantly change how your body interacts with light throughout the day which contributes a lot to how well you will sleep.
Some will suggest wearing orange UV glasses or goggles at night to cut the blue light, others may suggest getting a light emitter to place on your desk if you can’t go outside, and there are all sorts of gadgets and devices you could spend your money on to try and get better sleep…
But how about you just go through the simple FREE checklist above and see what happens?
3.) Get Habitual about your Slumber
Do you ever work extremely hard during the week with little sleep, telling yourself it’s OK because you will “catch up” on the weekend?
While it is true you can catch up on sleep in the short-term, you can’t in the long-term. Maybe some of you can sleep 15 hours on Saturday and Sunday, but not me. My two-year-old doesn’t accept “Daddy worked hard this week so he needs to sleep in”…nor should he!
It’s playtime at 6:30 a.m., sharp! And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
But “catching up” isn’t a good strategy. You can screw up your sleep patterns and circadian rhythm, and head into the next week feeling exhausted as your body is adjusting to this up and down cycle.
You need to set a hard “bedtime” for yourself.
Meaning, at whatever-works-for-you o’ clock, you are in bed…NO MATTER WHAT. Also set a time you wake up, ideally 7-8 hours after your hard set bedtime. It will be hard to adjust at first, but then your body will get accustomed to this schedule and you will start sleeping better and better.
Also, become aware of your pre-bedtime activities and possibly cut some of them out:
- Screens should be eliminated at least 30 min to 2 hours before bed
- Workouts should not be done right before bed
- Basically anything that gets you amped up should be limited.
You need to ramp your brain down in the evening, so don’t give it anything to “work on” right before bed, or during the night.
Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and look at the clock? Ok, dumb question.
Well, do you ever look at the clock and start calculating? “If I get back to sleep right now, I will get approximately 3.5 hours of sleep before I have to wake up” .
Uh-oh…You just woke the sleeping giant.
You kicked your brain into gear by doing simple math. Now, your brain is off to the races and the next thing you know you are thinking about what to get your mom for her birthday.
Dang it! And telling yourself to “go back to sleep” rarely works…
How do we fix this? Which habits can we create at night to start sleeping better?
Sleep Habit Checklist:
- Don’t look at a clock…ever!
- Go to bed at a certain time, even on the weekends.
- Wake up at a certain time, even on the weekends.
- Cut the screens 30 minutes before bed.
Truly, it is best to wake up naturally, without the use of an alarm…but this is the real world here. We can’t all do that. But if you set your alarm for 7-8 hours after your “bedtime” you are certainly getting adequate sleep, and why do you need to look at a clock in the middle of the night before the alarm goes off anyway?
Alright, that’s it!
Realize sleep is important to your health and better humanness, fix your light problems and become habitual about your sleep and you will be on track to get some pretty freakin’ awesome sleep.
If none of that works, let me know and I will write an article full of the hacks, supplements, and ancient secrets to help you sleep better.
But let’s try the basics first.
Here’s to sleeping more and becoming a better human!
photo credit: Anders Adermark, Douglas Heriot, Missud.